Dioceses build homes for retired priests
(Last of two parts)
Men leave their families to become priests and serve God.
Not allowed to marry, they have no families of their own.
When they are old, there’s no one to take care of them.
Fr. Steven Zabala, vice chancellor of the Diocese of Cubao, recalls the story of a retired priest who had no family to take care of him in his old age.
“I was a seminarian then, but it really struck an emotional chord in me that some retired priests are not being taken care of. After their service to the Catholic Church and people, they deserve to be taken care of,” Zabala said.
It was also this concern for aging priests that pushed Zabala’s superior, Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, to plan in 2005 a home for the diocese’s retired priests.
House of Silence
Casa de Silencio (House of Silence) Renewal Center will rise on a 3,300-square-meter property at Most Holy Redeemer Parish near Gregorio Araneta Avenue in Quezon City. The retirement home will have four stories and 75 rooms.
The diocese tapped architect Peter Ong, who designed a retirement house in the Diocese of Cabanatuan, to design Casa de Silencio. Ong is donating his services to the diocese.
The Cubao diocese is working hard to raise funds for the P200-million project. Groundbreaking is planned for June.
Zabala said the costs were likely to rise, as Casa de Silencio would have a six-bed infirmary with hospital equipment, nurse’s station, communal dining area, rooms for both retired and active priests, recreation room and library.
So far, parishes under the diocese have raised P26 million since the project was launched late last year.
Donors may write a check to the Casa de Silencio program and give it to their parish.
The Cubao diocese hopes to complete the project in two years.
The diocese currently has five retired priests, and this number is expected to rise in the next 20 years, with 28 more retiring over that period.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has a retirement plan for diocesan priests, who contribute a sum of money each month, which will eventually become their pension.
In the Archdiocese of Manila, the dioceses, which are independent of each other, are planning for the retirement of their priests.
The archdiocese already has Cardinal Sin Welcome Home at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Sampaloc district. Built in 2002, the retirement home takes care of 17 elderly priests.
“Now, other dioceses in the Philippines are starting their own homes for retired or ill priests,” said Fr. Jose Alan Dialogo, director of the retirement home.
Other jurisdictions that already have retirement homes for their priests are the Diocese of Cabanatuan and the Archdiocese of Cebu and Archdiocese of Jaro, Iloilo province.
The Diocese of Parañaque is planning to build its own retirement house.
Dialogo said he was consulted by the Diocese of Cubao recently on how to manage a home for retired priests, and how to deal with their families and relatives.
In a separate interview, Zabala confirmed the information, particularly the consultation on concerns of elderly priests.
Visits from fellow priests
“One thing we discovered is that retired priests fear staying in a retirement house because they don’t want to be isolated from the world,” Zabala said.
What elderly priests look forward to, he said, is visits from their fellow priests.
“They will be lonely if they are cut off from the world. But they are happy when they are visited by fellow priests,” Zabala said.
The Cubao diocese was thus inspired to design Casa de Silencio not just as a retirement home, but as a venue for spiritual retreats and other activities.
With such a place, active clergymen will be able to visit and interact with retired priests, and the retirement home will be a self-sustaining and income-generating center.
Casa de Silencio will be located near St. Luke’s Medical Center, De Los Santos Medical Center and Capitol Medical Center—convenient for retirees needing a medical checkup.
“It’s also near Araneta Avenue, where there are many funeral homes. There will be many who will need their services for Masses and sacraments,” Zabala said.
A place to stay
Priests have the option to be adopted by their parishes when they retire, but this may change when they are reassigned elsewhere.
“An option is to go back to your family, but you’re lucky if you have relatives to go back to. This is why we want them to have a place to stay,” Zabala said.
Priests, he said, don’t stop being priests when they retire. Most, if not all of them, still want to do their priestly duties, he said.
A retired priest may still administer the sacraments, and speak at spiritual retreats, he said. What they lose upon retiring is their administrative duties and decision-making powers in their parishes.
Like other retirees, priests are afraid of losing their physical strength and their faculties, Zabala said.
“They fear developing dementia, becoming forgetful. They fear the weakening of their bodies,” he said.
He said the diocese’s retired priests remained strong and showed no regrets for choosing the priestly life.
Aging with dignity
“Most had positive life experiences. I don’t see any regret in them. What they want is aging with dignity. They don’t have to worry about being abandoned, because the diocese will take care of them,” Zabala said.
Looking after them in their old age is the task not only of the priests in the diocese, he said, but also of the lay people these men of God served in their youth.
Lay people need not dig deep into their pockets to help take care of these graying clergymen, Zabala said. A visit is one way to make one’s gratitude felt.
“These priests took care of us spiritually for years. It’s now time for us to give back and take care of them,” he said.
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